Thursday, November 30, 2006

A small chocolate cake that's not so wacky

When I was young, my mom used to make that chocolate "wacky cake" recipe where you make the three holes in the top and pour different things in the holes. This is even faster (no need to dig holes), makes a cake just the right size for a small celebration, can be made dairy-free, and is so idiot-proof that it would make history out of all those jokes about inept newlyweds and other kitchen-phobes baking burned and fallen cakes. Somebody should have given a copy to Arthur too when he was trying to make a cake for his grandma. ("It says put in 1 lb. flour. What's a lub?")

2011 Update: In case anybody wonders if you can bake this recipe as cupcakes...yes! you can! This recipe makes about ten medium-sized cupcakes; you can double it to make more. Bake about 15 minutes at 350 degrees; test with toothpick.

Small Chocolate Cake, from The Kissing Bridge Cookbook by Marcella Wittig Calarco

Ingredients

1 egg
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 cup flour [You might need a little more flour, as much as 1/2 cup more]
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon vanilla

Method

In a large bowl, beat the egg, and beat in the sugar, cocoa and butter until smooth. Add the flour, soda and baking powder and mix well. Pour in the boiling water and vanilla and mix. Pour the batter into a greased and floured 8 inch square pan. Bake at 350°F, 20 to 25 minutes or until it tests done. Leave it in the pan and frost with your favorite frosting.

This cake has had many incarnations at the Treehouse. It was used for Mr. Fixit's Brown Dirt Birthday Cake, frosted with chocolate icing and covered with chocolate cookie crumbs for dirt. Last December it was our Dance Recital and Starting Advent Cake. I was making chocolate chip icing for it (on the stove) but it was kind of thin, so I stirred in some mini marshmallows, thinking they'd melt, but they didn't really. I spread the icing on the cake with all the marshmallows sticking out of it, and it got oohs and ahs from the Squirrelings. ("Like a hot chocolate cake!")

And now you have the recipe too, so there's no reason to go wacky if you have to make a cake.

Book Reviews, Part 6

365 Days of Celebration and Praise: Daily Devotions and Activities for Homeschooling Families, by Julie Lavender

Homeschooling the Challenging Child: A Practical Guide, by Christine M. Field

Homeschooling Methods: Seasoned Advice on Learning Styles, with contributions by Ruth Beechick, Clay & Sally Clarkson, Christine Field, Diana Waring and others. General Editors, Paul & Gena Suarez. Published by The Old Schoolhouse.

With titles like those, you almost don't need reviews. But here are some of my thoughts anyway.

365 Days of Praise: It's not unusual to see almanacs of days; there are places online with lists of odd holidays and anniversaries, and there are books for teachers that suggest activities for Pickle Week or whatever. But two things set this one apart: it's aimed at Christian homeschooling families, and it's set up to be used as a devotional resource. Each day has a short introduction (sometimes with related Bible reading), discussion questions, a related activity, a "curriculum connection", a Bible verse to memorize, and a prayer suggestion. The introduction has some suggestions for using the book; you can pick and choose which days to celebrate (and some of them are weeks or months, such as National Book Month), and you could adapt the suggested activities depending on the ages of your children.

I think the book might work well for a weekly family night or Sunday afternoon time, since some of the activities (such as crafts and outings) will take more time out of a homeschool morning than you might want for devotions. The suggestions remind me of the kinds of things we do during Advent. There are a few things here and there that are a bit strange or seem to be stretching the theme, such as praying for hatmakers on Hat Day. But overall the activities sound like fun, and for those whose homeschool style is mostly rabbit-trail-based, the celebrations might even be the jumping-off point for a whole day's learning (or more).

I even picked up one easy snack idea that would work well for our own advent calendar: December 12th has a peace theme, and Julie's Goose Day activity (for August 29th) is a bagel-and-cream-cheese dove. You slice a bagel across, cut one piece in half (into C shapes), put the two "wings" on a plate facing out from the "body", cover the whole thing with cream cheese, and put a doughnut hole/Timbit where the head would be. We've made Butterfly Sandwiches before, but never bagel doves.


Homeschooling the Challenging Child: This is the book to read "if your kids isn't like all the other kids on the block." The author notes that the book is about learning issues, not physical disabilities; but it does cover a wide range of learning disabilities and differences, discipline issues, and parent/child clashes in personality and learning styles. There are also helpful followup chapters on "Mom, Marriage and Siblings" (families with "difficult children" need support too), on planning a program, and on when and how to seek professional help. The book is about finding creative solutions and getting perspective on problems (which can sometimes be gifts, not problems), whether your child has an official disability or not. (One of Christine Field's children is an energetic boy who might be labelled ADHD in a classroom, but she feels that's just our culture's negative view of energetic boys.) As the subtitle says, there are practical tips all the way through the book, such as ideas for teaching distractible children (if a child is very bothered by the noise of others working in the room, you might consider using industrial-grade ear protectors).

Christine Field says, "The longer I live with challenging children, the more I truly believe they are a privilege because we are all growing more than we would without the challenges. Our spiritual 'muscles' are strengthened and our creativity is heightened as we find the best way to bring out the best in these children." (page 64) She's done a good job of helping others to do that with this book.


Homeschooling Methods: Many people have tried to do a complete rundown of the major homeschooling approaches, in articles, in books, and at homeschool meetings. They usually fail because a) they don't really know enough about all those different approaches, b) they don't know how the "in practice" side of each approach differs from the philosophical side (what do "real" unschoolers or Charlotte Mason-ites do every day?), and c) of course they're biased towards their own approach, even if they're trying to cover things fairly. I have seen innumerable awful descriptions of CM homeschooling, for example; but if I tried to write a positive description of a popular fill-in-the-blank curriculum, I guess I'd be just as unfair since I've never used it myself.

Anyway, Paul and Gena Suarez have gotten around this by calling on people recognized in ten different homeschooling methods and approaches (if you can count a section on special needs and one on carschooling as approaches). Their choices of methods and contributors are slanted toward Christian homeschoolers: there are no radical unschoolers or homeschoolers of other faiths included here.

You will laugh about this if you know us, but if I was disappointed by one section, it was the Traditional Textbook chapter. If I were a new homeschooler weighing my options, I'm not sure I would be convinced by the reasons given to use that method: mainly familiarity and the fact that you don't have to create curriculum from the ground up. One of my local homeschooling friends, a devoted A Beka user, has given more convincing presentations than that to explain her choices; I wish they'd asked her for her opinion! (Although I know they were going for the "big names" here.) I was also slightly puzzled by the mention of Sonlight Curriculum within the Traditional Textbook section, although I think the writer meant to include it as an example of a curriculum where everything is provided for you, rather than as an equivalent to A Beka or Bob Jones. (Sonlight would probably be more of a literature-based or eclectic curriculum.)

What about the CM chapter? It's written by Catherine Levison and sounds pretty much like everything else she's written about CM (well researched and well written), so there were no real surprises there. The only thing I might wish for there (if there were a little more space) might be just a bit of description about what CM educators are up to these days: the online community has contributed a great deal to CM's continued popularity with homeschoolers, and there are also private schools that use CM methods. There is also at least one annual conference for CM educators, in North Carolina (scroll down through the list of events to see the information for 2007).

The thing I liked best about this book was that it seems to be pretty fair in its coverage of different approaches: the writers contribute from their own perspectives, but they don't bash other methods. As Diana Waring writes (on page 180), "Not everyone is like me."

(Proceeds from Homeschooling Methods are going to NATHHAN, the organization that supports homeschoolers with disabilities and their families.)


(Other book reviews on this blog: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Festival of Frugality, and a new blogroll

Pocket Change hosts this week's Festival of Frugality. Check out Kim's post there--that's Kim from Life in a Shoe, at her new "other blog." Kim is starting a Frugal Blogroll, and the directions are there if you have a frugality-slanted blog and want to join.

Gallivanting around the blog world

Athena in a Minivan shares some lessons learned over fruit salad.

Marsha isn't usually one to get upset over trifles, but fair-trade cocoa has her in a like-it-but-lump-it situation.

Mother Auma learns a new word. I will have to remember to make my visits over there more than just hebdomadal.

Cindy says that when it rains, it pours. But this is happy rain.

And Meredith gets ready to share some holiday decorating ideas (and photos): but without going to the Big Craft Store That Starts with M.

Well, now we know.

The value of education is all about people dressed up as chickens.

In this Northwest Herald article, writer David Fitzgerald quotes District 300 Superintendent Ken Arndt:

"He said that although home-school children don’t take standardized tests, that doesn’t mean they were not learning. But physical brick and mortar schools, he added, have a social advantage. They unite a community around a school, its teams and its mascot."

Rah rah rah.

(Found through the Carnival of Homeschooling, mentioned in a post on Corn and Oil.)

An Advent Calendar

Update: our own 2008 Advent Calendar is here.

(See also Using Our Advent Calendar)

I posted earlier in the week about using the online MCC Advent Calendar to spark some ideas for our own family's Advent celebration. [UPDATE September 2007: last year's MCC calendar is gone, and this year's isn't posted yet. Sorry!] Here's what I've come up with so far. The symbols refer to ornaments that we will put on a small Christmas tree (if we don't have an ornament, we'll use a cutout). The suggestions for stories, songs and activities are purposely kind of loose (read this or maybe that) so that others can use them as well without having to track down our books or videos. We probably won't do all of the activities--they're just suggestions for things that we might do during the days or during evening family times. Some of the slots are still blank; they may be filled in as we go.

The devotional thoughts and prayer needs are mostly taken right from the MCC Advent Calendar. I'm planning on incorporating them into our evening times around the Advent wreath. We'll locate the countries on a globe and maybe have the girls colour them in on outline maps of the world. The countries idea could be extended as much as you want: you could look countries up in books or online and look for foods or crafts from those places.

With the prayer needs and the giving ideas, I don't want to emphasize guilt (we have this but children in poor countries don't), but rather the ways that Christians are helping, in this case through Mennonite Central Committee projects, and the ways that we can contribute to that work as well. You could substitute other relief or development projects or missions that you support.

The asterisked days are the Sundays. This is a very short Advent season! The fourth Sunday is also Christmas Eve this year.

* December 3
Symbol/theme: Mary, God with us (Emmanuel); or a small globe-shaped ornament (or cutout of the Earth)
Country: The whole world
Songs: O come O Come Emmanuel; Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus; Joy to the World
Scripture: Luke 1:30-31, 38
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: Just as God was with Mary, God is with us every day. Where do you see God in your life?
Giving ideas (adapted from the Lutheran Church of Australia’s African Journey Calendar): Many children in the world do not have the chance to go to school and do not have their own books. Put 5 cents in your “bank” for every book you read or have read to you this week.
Story/poem:
Activity: Prepare a collection box or bank for your family’s Advent giving.

December 4
Symbol/theme: Horn (trumpet)
Country: The Netherlands
Songs: Glory to God; Sing of Birth (songs from Gold, Incense and Myrrh)
Scripture: read about John the Baptist
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: Farmers in the Netherlands blow long, loud horns at sunset each evening during the Advent season to announce the coming of Christmas.
Giving ideas:
Story/poem: Tomahawks and Trombones (a book about making a joyful noise)
Activity: Mail Christmas cards. Sing & make a joyful noise (with instruments?). Read about Dutch Christmas customs.


December 5

Symbol/theme: Baby
Country: Laos (photographs of Laos)
Songs: Away in a Manger; One Small child; Infant Holy, Infant Lowly; What Child is This
Scripture: Luke 2:6-7
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: MCC helps pregnant women in Laos who do not live near hospitals to have a healthy pregnancy and birth. Pray for these needs and also for the local crisis pregnancy centre, for midwives, for mothers and babies.
Giving ideas:
Story/poem: The First Night, by B.G. Hennessy
Activity: Look at family baby pictures, or your old baby clothes or toys. Talk about how parents take care of new babies.


December 6 (St. Nicholas Day)
Symbol/theme: Candle
Country: Syria
Songs: Sing of Birth
Scripture:
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: In Syria, after reading the Christmas story, families light a bonfire with candles. When it burns out, they leap over the embers making wishes. Instead of making wishes, have a time of prayer together.
Giving ideas: Count the number of candles in your house and put 10 cents in your “bank” for each.
Story/poem and Activity: Sit by the fire and read “The Camel of Bethlehem” (anthology p. 68) or another story. Find out more about life in Syria. Be a Secret Servant for someone today (help someone without letting them know. If your mission is successful, put something into the collection box. You will have several more opportunities to do this!).


December 7
Symbol/theme: Angel
Country:
Songs: Angel songs. Angels We Have Heard on High; It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
Scripture:
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: In this season of gift-giving, see if your family would like to collect items for MCC relief kits that are sent to those in need. Also pray for the needs of Operation Christmas Child, and for the children who will receive the boxes we sent.
Giving ideas:
Story/poem: A favourite angel story?
Activity: Make clothespin angels, pasta angels, or other angel ornaments. Make snow angels if there is any snow.


December 8
Symbol/theme: Stable
Country: Las Posadas celebrations in Latin America, particularly Colombia
Songs:
Scripture:
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: Las Posadas is a Christmas celebration in Latin America where families act out Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter before Jesus was born. Many families in Colombia are searching for a safe home today, due to armed conflict. Pray for those who need shelter: homeless people and refugees.
Giving ideas:
Story/poem: “The House of Christmas” (Chesterton) (Light of Christmas p. 211)
Activity: Put out a nativity scene.


December 9
Symbol/theme: Farm animals (besides sheep)
Country: Southeastern Europe
Songs: The Friendly Beasts
Scripture: Luke 2:8-12
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: MCC is providing livestock to families in southeastern Europe who are returning to their farms after years of war.
Giving ideas:
Story/poem: On Christmas Day in the Morning, or a story about the animals in the stable, or a farm story.
Activity: Craft: make an animal from knitting, sculpture, or recycled materials; a washcloth sheep. Be a Secret Servant.


* December 10
Symbol/theme: Heart, love
Country:
Songs:
Scripture: John 3:16
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: What is the heart of Christmas? (See today’s Scripture)
Giving ideas: How many pairs of socks do you have? Put 5 cents in your “bank” for each pair of socks you own.
Story/poem:
Activity: Make woven paper hearts to hang on the Christmas tree. Make heart cookies or biscuits, and take some to share with a neighbour or friend.


December 11
Symbol/theme:
Country: South Africa
Songs:
Scripture:
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: In South Africa, Christmas falls in the summertime. Many families celebrate with a meal outside or even a trip to the beach! Pray for Christians in South Africa.
Giving ideas: How many countries in Africa do you know without looking at a map? Put a penny in the jar for each one you can list. Find out more about life in South Africa. What projects does MCC have there? (see http://www.mcc.org/southafrica )
Story/poem: A story set in South Africa?
Activity: Make crepe paper chains (one of our Christmas books says that South African children make these at Christmas time).

December 12
Symbol/theme: A globe; a dove for peace; or water
Country: Countries of Southeast Asia
Songs:
Scripture: Luke 2:13-14
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: MCC is building peace in Southeast Asia by encouraging farmers to learn to share land, water and other resources.
Giving ideas: How many glasses of water did you drink today? Put 10 cents in your “bank” for each one. OR Many women walk long hours to collect clean water. Count the number of water taps in your house. Put 35 cents in your “bank” for each one.
Story/poem: A story set in Southeast Asia?
Activity: Be a Secret Servant today. Start planning a puppet show or play for a family gathering next Sunday night. (Adapt a story, or make up your own.)


December 13
Symbol/theme: Gifts, wise men
Country: --
Songs: Songs about the wise men.
Scripture: Matt. 2:7-11
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: Do you know what three gifts the wise men gave to baby Jesus? Look for the answer in today’s Scripture.
Giving ideas: Put 50 cents in your “bank” as a “Thank You” for the strong roof on your house.
Story/poem: “What Can I Give Him?” (C. Rossetti). Story about the Wise Men.
Activity: Wrap Christmas presents. Practice your play.


December 14
Symbol/theme: Tree
Country: Haiti
Songs: “Winds through the Olive Trees”
Scripture:
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: Many North Americans decorate Christmas trees in their homes. Haiti is losing forests because trees are cut down for fuel and not replanted.
Giving ideas:
Story/poem: Tree story? (Why Christmas Trees are Not Perfect is one possibility.)
Activity: Practice your play. Watch A Charlie Brown Christmas. Nature activity: look at the trees at this time of year; talk about what happens to them in the winter. Learn about Haiti (possibly from the book Material World?).


December 15
Symbol/theme: Refugees
Country: Uganda, Sudan, Chad
Songs:
Scripture: Matt. 2:13-22
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: MCC assists families who must move away from their homes to find safety. (Remember that Mary and Joseph were refugees too.)
Giving ideas: Many people do not have blankets to keep them warm when it is cold. Count the number of blankets in your home and put 5 cents in your “bank” for each.
Story/poem:
Activity: Be a Secret Servant today. Practice your play. (Do you need props or scenery?)


December 16
Symbol/theme: Love, hugs
Country:
Songs: “Love came down at Christmas”
Scripture:
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: Some families cannot afford presents at Christmas, but still rejoice in God’s gift of love through Jesus. Hug your family today.
Giving ideas:
Story/poem: Maybe a favourite Christmas chapter from one of the Little House books (Little House on the Prairie or The Long Winter).
Activity: Put up the tree this weekend. Call somebody to say you love them. Practice your play.


* December 17
Symbol/theme: Light
Country:
Songs: Hark the Herald Angels Sing; Shine Jesus Shine
Scripture: Luke 2:25-32; John 1
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: Jesus was born to be a light for those who have lost their way. Think of this when you hang lights or light a candle this Christmas.
Giving ideas: Many people live each day without electricity. Count the number of light bulbs in your house and put 5 cents in your “bank” for each.
Story/poem:
Activity: Make paper lanterns? Science experiments with candles? Walk or drive to look at Christmas lights. Have a special family gathering time (maybe with relatives or friends?) and put on your puppet show or play.


December 18
Symbol/theme: Star
Country: Bangladesh
Songs: Star songs
Scripture: Matt. 2:1-11
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: MCC supports artists in Bangladesh who make paper stars. The stars are sold in ten Thousand Villages stores at Christmas time.
Giving ideas: Give 5 cents for every star you can count in the sky.
Story/poem: “The Star” by Helen Waddell (Light of Christmas, p. 29)
Activity: Find out more about Bangladesh. Go to a Ten Thousand Villages store and look for star ornaments. Make star decorations. Go outside at night and look at the stars. Watch Veggie Tales’ The Star of Christmas, or The Little Drummer Boy.


December 19
Symbol/theme: Shepherd, sheep
Country:
Songs: While Shepherds Watched; The First Noel
Scripture: Luke 2:15-16
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: When you wake up Christmas morning, think of how excited the shepherds were to see what the angels had announced.
Giving ideas: Give up eating a snack or drinking a soft drink today and place the money you would have spent to buy it in your “bank”.
Story/poem: A sheep story?
Activity: Be a Secret Servant.


December 20
Symbol/theme: Poinsettia
Country: Mexico
Songs: Go Tell it On the Mountain
Scripture:
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: Do you see poinsettias at Christmas? They are native to Mexico, where people thought the bright red leaves looked like the star of Bethlehem.
Giving ideas: In poor countries it is usual for health clinics to have very few medicines for the sick. Count the number of times you have been sick this year and put 25 cents in your “bank” for each time, OR put 25 cents in for each time you have visited a doctor.
Story/poem: Nine Days to Christmas
Activity: Mexican decorations?


December 21
Symbol/theme: Food needs—food item?
Country: All countries where people are hungry; or one country where there is a special need or relief effort going on
Songs:
Scripture:
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: In the Lord’s Prayer we pray “Give us our
daily bread.” While some families enjoy feasts on Christmas, others struggle to have enough food.
Giving ideas: Put 25 cents in your “bank” for each meal you ate today. OR Count the difference in cost between your simple dinner and an "average" one; put the difference into the box.
Story/poem:
Activity: Serve a simple meal and pray for those who don’t have enough to eat. Be a Secret Servant.


December 22 (Night of Poems--a family tradition)
Symbol/theme: Snowflake
Country: Lebanon
Songs: In the Bleak Midwinter; The Huron Carol; snow songs; Silent night.
Scripture:
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: If you have a white Christmas, you can gather clean snow, like children in Lebanon, and add fruit juice and sugar to make a snack called yuksuma. (Or eat some sherbet or popsicles.)
Giving ideas:
Story/poem: A story about Lebanon? (here's one link)
Activity: Play in the snow, make a snowman. Help prepare food and table decorations for Christmas Day. What does MCC do in Lebanon? Prepare for the Night of Poems. Have a few minutes of quiet; pray for peace.


December 23
Symbol/theme: Candy cane
Country: Bangladesh (or another country since it was used on the 18th)
Songs: Favourite Scripture choruses and Psalms
Scripture:
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts:
Giving ideas:
Story/poem:
Activity: Sweet snacks are great at Christmas! Try a snack that children in Bangladesh love to eat: puffed rice with sugar and shredded coconut on top. Or make another Christmas treat. Help prepare for Christmas Day (this is our grocery day). Look on the kitchen wall for a list of small jobs that need doing. Cross them off as they get done.


* December 24 (Christmas Eve)
Symbol/theme: Star of David.
Country: Israel and the Middle East
Songs: O Come O Come Emmanuel; O Little Town of Bethlehem; Joy to the World; Lift Up Your Heads O Ye Gates (a favourite Psalm)
Scripture:
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Find Bethlehem on a map. Offer a prayer for peace in the Middle East and around the world.
Giving ideas:
Story/poem: “The Stable” by Handel H. Brown (Light of Christmas p. 23)
Activity: Secret Servant (last chance!).

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Carnival of Homeschooling

The Common Room hosts this week's carnival, and there are a lot of entries! (Just a note that Dewey's Treehouse will be hosting, for the first time ever, sometime in January.)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Our Advent Calendar

Every year I find myself looking for Advent ideas. We like having a family gathering time each evening during Advent, and I often provide some kind of related activities for our Squirrelings to do during the days as well. Although I'd like to try Ann Voskamp's new Glorious Coming study, we've done the Jesse Tree-type Old Testament symbols several times over the past few years; we've also done the Names of Jesus and so on. One year we did a four-week look at the Gospels: one week each for Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. (Maybe next year we'll get a copy of Ann's book.)

Anyway, a church bulletin insert last weekend pointed me to the Mennonite Central Committee's printable Advent Calendar (click on the Advent calendar link there). [UPDATE September 2007: last year's calendar is gone, and this year's isn't posted yet. Sorry!] It's a two-page PDF document with brief notes for each day in Advent. Several of the days have notes about MCC projects going on in different countries. It's too sparse for our family to use just as it is, but I'm working on some ways to expand the ideas. When I get my plans together, I'll post them for anyone else who can use them. [Update: our plan for Advent is here.]

Here's a link to last year's post about our family's Advent traditions.

Thinking like a history teacher

(Book Reviews, Part 5.)

One of the books we bought for the support group library is Making Sense of History: Using High-Quality Literature and Hands-On Experiences to Build Content Knowledge, by Myra Zarnowski. This is not a homeschool book; it's written by a classroom teacher, for classroom teachers. Actually Myra Zarnowski is Chair and Professor of Elementary and Early Childhood Education at Queens College, City University of New York, "where she teaches courses in literacy, children's literature, and social studies."

Of the forty-two books we bought, about half of which I've at least skimmed through, this one has been the most challenging to read and the hardest to skim, for this reason: I read teachers' books as an atheist might read C.S. Lewis. I read with a bit of suspicion, trying to pin down a worldview. I can make no assumptions, coming into this, that the author and I have anything in common, in our understanding of history, of teaching, or of the way things work in general. She's from the deep dark Graves of Academe; I am "just a homeschool mom." We're coming from different places, and we're probably trying to get to different places as well.

Assuming I'm "Typical Homeschool Mom" (though there isn't such a thing, any more than there's a typical teacher), did our paths manage to cross enough to make this book useful for homeschoolers? I'd say at least somewhat--and probably more than I expected. (I'm a little surprised that there is still that much public school interest in teaching history; based on what I see in teachers' stores, I thought it had been mostly replaced by social studies and self-esteem unit studies. See, I learned something too.)

The stated purpose of the book--teaching teachers and students to think historically-- should make it--or similar books by other history teachers--something homeschoolers should add to their professional development reading list. (Canadian teacher Edith Deyell wrote a long-out-of-print book, Making Canadian History, in which she raised many of the same questions and made similar suggestions for bringing history to life.) Just as mathematicians try to encourage "math literacy" in schools, historians want history classes to go beyond mere facts and dates, to question sources, consider evidence, and discuss context, to use quality literature (but to understand the limitations of historical fiction), and to use hands-on activities to reinforce the ideas that are taught.

One interesting section (in chapter 7) discusses the fact that there are many biographies of George Washington, both for adults and for children. Don't we already know just about everything there is to know about him? Why are books about Washington still being written? The author points out that "these books differ largely because of the fact that the authors ask different questions about Washington and, as a result, rely on different evidence to answer those questions." That may seem obvious to teachers and parents, but she points out that "it is not clear and obvious to students."

The hands-on activities and examples of student writing in this book didn't strike me as exceptional, especially an Ancient Egypt activity involving "mummifying" each other and then sending each one "into the afterlife with a prayer written by group members." A group-written script about Patrick Henry includes the not-so-memorable lines:

Delegate 1: I wish I could get out of this meeting room right this minute!!!

Delegate 4: Wait a minute. I am starting to think he is right. We are supposed to be fighting for our colonies. If we just sit here and say he is foolish, then what's the point of fighting for our independence?

Delegate 2: Oh my God! For real? You actually like him all of a sudden? [page 20]

However, the examples of contemporary nonfiction books do look interesting and at least worth looking for at the library--even if homeschoolers might choose to use them differently. Some of them are familiar to homeschoolers (such as Diane Stanley's biographies), and others may not be. The general idea behind that Patrick Henry script was a good one too: groups of students were each assigned one illustration from a book about the War of Independence and they had to create scripts based on the pictures.

And the big questions asked in the book are the ones that homeschoolers need to remember as well. Myra Zarnowski suggests these questions to ask when reading historical fiction:
* How does the book help me understand daily life in the past?
* Could the events described have happened? What evidence do I have?
* Which events really happened? How do I know?
* Which characters really existed? How do I know? [page 149]
Is this book a worthwhile purchase for homeschoolers? Unfortunately, it's kind of expensive (the back cover lists it at $23.99 U.S., $31.99 Canadian), and homeschoolers would probably not want to use all the classroom suggestions. It would be a good group resource, though, if only to remind us to ask the right questions. [Update: Henry Cate from WhyHomeschool let me know that Amazon lists this book for $15. Even at that price, I think it is worthwhile reading for homeschoolers, but not necessarily worth owning.]

Sunday, November 26, 2006

"The kids at school called me a geek! *sob* I try so hard to be an uber-geek!" ~Jason Fox

Well, I'm neither. Quiz says so. Ha.

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Literate Good Citizen

You read to inform or entertain yourself, but you're not nerdy about it. You've read most major classics (in school) and you have a favorite genre or two.

Dedicated Reader
Book Snob
Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Fad Reader
Non-Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

Carnival of the Recipes

The Geek Family hosts this week's Recipe Carnival, including our Rather Retro Recipe (which got cleaned out at the potluck last night).

Not a snob, I just like books

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

Book Snob
Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Literate Good Citizen
Fad Reader
Non-Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

Frugal is good

Dawn at Frugal for Life is hosting a contest, but the deadline is December 1 so you'll have to hurry. She has five questions about frugality that you need to answer in an email (not in her comments section), and then there will be a draw for the winners.

What can you win? 3 names will be drawn, and each person will receive the following:
~$25 Prepaid Gift Card or Gift Certificate
~ The Complete Tightwad Gazette Book
~ A Frugal for Life T-shirt

Good luck!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Rather Retro Recipe

Tonight is a rare occasion in the Treehouse: a church potluck dinner. Due to a combination of food preferences, intolerances and food poisoning experiences (not at this church, just in general), we usually beg off from these things. However, this is a starting-the-holidays celebration, and Ponytails is reading a poem after the meal, so it's important to go. And I needed to come up with a dessert.

A plain cake would probably have done fine, but I was looking through some recipes and thinking about all the potlucks I went to when I was younger, at another church. I loved those dinners, even the strange casseroles (well, not the ones with Veg-All in them). (Grandma Squirrel says that she thinks some people would just put their whole week's leftovers in a casserole dish and poured a can of tomato soup over them.)

In my browsing, I came across this recipe for Lemon Delight--one of those fluffy panfuls-of-stuff that I have hardly ever made myself but which were pretty common at those potlucks. And look at that--we had everything right there in the house for it, even on the day before grocery day. Even a can of evaporated milk, which I hardly ever have around.

So Ponytails and I made it. I had my doubts about whether that 2% milk would whip up stiff in the food processor, but it worked. We left a bit of filling aside just so we could taste it first without cutting into the pan--and the Squirrelings agree that this is very good. Sweet, but good.


Ruby’s Lemon Delight (Schmecks Appeal: More Mennonite Country Cooking, by Edna Staebler)

2 cups graham wafer crumbs
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup butter or margarine
1 box lemon Jell-O powder
½ cup boiling water
1 large can evaporated milk (must be icy cold to whip) [I opened a can of 2% evaporated milk, poured it into a shallow container, and let it sit in the freezer for half an hour. By that time, the edges were starting to get frozen. If you had more time, you could just put it in the fridge.]
½ cup sugar
Juice and rind of 1 lemon

Mix graham wafer crumbs with brown sugar and butter. Pack two-thirds of the mixture in the bottom of an unbuttered 9 x 13” pan. Dissolve Jell-O in boiling water and set aside to cool. [A note on the Jell-O: don't make it too soon. By the time I went to add it right at the end, the Jell-O in the bottom of the bowl had started to set.] Whip chilled evaporated milk until stiff [I used the whip attachment on the food processor, but regular beaters might be quicker. It also might help if you chilled the bowl and the beaters as well.]. Add sugar and lemon juice and rind, then beat in the Jell-O. Pour the mixture over the crumbs in the pan. Sprinkle remaining crumbs over top and chill in refrigerator for 3 hours, or in freezer for 1 hour. Cut into squares to serve.

This post is linked from Potluck Saturday at The Common Room.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Answers to the Mama Squirrel quiz

The Answers to "Five Things--tag, you're it"

1. Which part-time/summer job did Mama Squirrel NEVER have?

a) counter help in a fast-food restaurant

2. How many wisdom teeth has Mama Squirrel had pulled?

d) none of them because they never came in

3. Which of these once-trendy haircuts did Mama Squirrel NEVER have?

Both c) Mohawk and e) Ed Grimley

4. Which of these albums did Mama Squirrel NEVER own?

c) Meatloaf, Bat Out of Hell

5. Which of these things has Mama Squirrel never eaten?

c) oysters

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Book Reviews, Part 4

(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

Mini-Books by Joyce Herzog

These are some of those books I mentioned that I wouldn't use so much myself--my children haven't needed extra help in learning language or their colours, and we don't have a toddler Squirrel around anymore. But I think they're great just the same, if only for the reason that so many homeschool books are big and fat and slightly intimidating (and cost thirty dollars apiece). Anybody could use these booklets--anybody. They're fairly inexpensive, most of them are only 16 pages long, and they're simply written. The toddler booklets, especially, would be great not only for those planning to homeschool, but for any parents, especially young parents who maybe don't know what to do with their little ones.

Including Very Young Learners in your Homeschool and Toddler School in a Box are similar: they both provide several pages of suggestions for teaching big/small, under/over, letters, counting, colours, cutting. I like one of Joyce's "Hints for Success": "Continue teaching and mixed practice until [the skills] are mastered. Cheerfully repeat."

Developing Language Skills has more of the same but isn't labelled as a preschool book; it would be helpful as well for slightly older children with language delays.

Using Graph Paper to Enhance Learning has probably the least content of the group, only because so much of its sixteen pages is taken up with diagrams. You can get the general idea of what's in there very quickly. But it's helpful, especially with graph paper of all sizes being so much easier to find or create now. (The only graph paper I see in the stores here has four squares to the inch, but that link lets you generate any size squares you want.) Joyce's booklet shows you how to use squared paper not only for math (including keeping things lined up) but for penmanship as well. A great suggestion someone gave me was to use a notebook of graph paper for older students' math work; Joyce suggests ways that younger students can benefit as well.

A lot in a little space--I think these Mini-books could have many uses.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Book Reviews, Part 3

When Homeschooling Gets Tough!, by Diana Johnson

Shepherding a Child's Heart , by Tedd Tripp

When Homeschooling Gets Tough! is one book I would happily hand out both to new homeschoolers and to veterans feeling like they're "not doing it right", that their kids aren't as talented or as mission-minded as someone else's, or that their husbands aren't following the "homeschool dad" script. Without pushing either one particular theological slant or homeschool philosophy, Diana Johnson graciously and good-humoredly manages to make us all feel welcome. I particularly liked her take on 1 Corinthians 12:
"For, in fact, the homeschool community is not one schooling model, but many. If the textbook user should say, "Because I don't use unit studies, I'm not a good homeschooler," is she therefore not a good homeschooler? And if the living book user should say, "Because I haven't tested my fourth grader at all this year, I am not a good homeschooler," is she therefore not a good homeschooler?....But now God has given us all individual interests and abilities just as He pleased." (When Homeschooling Gets Tough!, page 20)
This isn't just a book for homeschoolers facing discouragement or burnout, though. Drawing on her experience working in the homeschool department of a Christian bookstore (and homeschooling for twenty-plus years), the author also includes chapters on "Providing a Realistic Program" and "Defining the Basics." This is a book I would have liked to have read when we were getting started, but I found some good advice in there even though I have my "10-year homeschool pin."

In the same way, I would like to have read Shepherding a Child's Heart before we ever had children. It manages to be reassuring and challenging at the same time, although some people will disagree with the author's use of "the rod." I think the best thing about it is that it acknowledges that the world has changed, for better or for worse; that children no longer sit in rows in school and listen without question to the teacher; that our culture's view of authority has changed so much that, to paraphrase Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, we might have to go back and think this parenting thing through again. If we're too focused on our childrens' outward behaviour and manners, on what people think, we're missing out on the heart issues. If we take away privileges but don't train our children to walk with God, we're missing out as well. There is a lot in here that echoes Charlotte Mason's parenting advice, particularly on learning to step back and let the Holy Spirit work in our childrens' lives.

Both books are encouraging, and I'm glad we have them for the resource library.

Book Reviews, Part 2

Terri Camp, like many homeschoolers, has taken Yeats' "Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire" as her favourite educational quote, and her book Ignite the Fire expands on that idea. This is the book I mentioned before with the puzzling cover: a Norman Rockwell/Ideals-type picture of a boy forking up pancakes, obviously ready to leave for school (his coat and his books are nearby), and cramming from a vintage-looking History of America. Is the point that the book is so fascinating that he can't put it down? Or is it that homeschoolers can offer their children something more than a hurried cramming of history dates followed by a cold walk or ride to school?

Terri has collected enough positive reviews of this book that to criticize it seems pointless; obviously a lot of people like it! My only real problem with it is that, like many of the books I've seen lately, it might have used a bit tighter editing. Not that it's long--only about a hundred pages. But I got the feeling that a lot of it had been collected along the way--that some of it had been previously written as separate articles. Not that writing a book that way is a new idea, or that it can't work--in fact, Charlotte Mason's books were largely written as separate talks and articles, and Karen Andreola's CM Companion also contains previously published chapters. It's just that these books sometimes feel a bit choppy, a bit repetitive, even a bit hard to follow. So I am going to be forward enough to say that with a bit more editing, it might have been even more useful.

Most useful for: new homeschoolers, and those interested in the homeschool approach that emphasizes an individualized, God-directed education for each child.

How the book stack challenge is going

(Update from this post)

I got as far as chapter 9 in The Vicar of Wakefield and then decided that this was too good to read by myself. So yesterday I started back at the beginning of it with The Apprentice. The others will have to wait until I'm done my support group library binge.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Neither does Dewey

We missed this post at Beth Spera in Domino from a couple of weeks ago, but thought it was squirrel-worthy enough to post here.

Festival Day

Festival of Frugality #49 is hosted by Frugal for Life, and they have a trivia game for you to play while you read.

And Tami's Blog hosts the Carnival of Homeschooling.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Book Reviews, Part 1

(For the introduction to this, see this post.)

Is it just me, or are the covers on homeschool books getting more home-made looking and cornier again? I remember when there were a lot of self-published homeschool guides, and they looked it--comb-bound and set up on somebody's computer. Then there was a period of ultra-professional looking graphics, not to mention an overload of Victorian clip art.

Now I'm holding two books, one with cover art that looks straight out of Grandma's favourite Ideals magazines, and another with a blue and green cover that echoes my uncle's living room decor ca. 1968. But these are brand new books, both published within the last five years.

Oh well, can't judge a book by its retro cover. The blue and green book is Add Two Cups of Laughter, by Canadian Cyndy Regeling (author of the Come Sit By Me curriculum) and American Tammy Duby (of Tobin's Lab). That in itself is kind of unusual; however, in these days of email it's not impossible to write a book with someone who lives in another country! (Having participated in a similar international project myself, I know what that's like!) This is their second collaborative effort: the first was The Ultimate Lap Book Handbook.

Add Two Cups of Laughter is a book full of ideas to keep your homeschooling from getting stale, or what to do to spice things up when you've all been snowed in too long and you're close to round-the-bend. Some of them I think you'd have to be fairly desperate to do, like dressing up like Mrs. Doubtfire and arriving for tea and stories; but others are more open-ended and practical. There's a chapter on encouraging each other and one on suggestions for field trips. There are also suggestions for P.D. Days, Workshop Days (a day with a series of activities based around a theme), and co-op programs. I guess you could call our last week's Africa theme a Workshop Week, although it wasn't quite as organized as the Workshop Days in this book. (Cyndy and Tammy differentiate between a "P.D. Day" and a "Workshop Day"; a "P.D. Day" is a break, a fun day with a theme (think of all those silly camp theme days), and a "Workshop Day" is "adding laughter but keeping the school plans intact," focusing on one topic such as Shakespeare, or one one type of activity such as art. I like the detailed plans for "Workshop Days"; I think they're a workable idea that many families could use.

Most useful for: Overscheduled homeschoolers who need to know that it's okay to relax, and anyone who wants a break from "routine homeschooling" (if there is such a thing).

Cyndy and Tammy's other book is The Ultimate Lap Book Handbook, which draws on Dinah Zike's Big Book of Books and Activities. Although I'm not a lapbooker, I can find things in this book of fifty projects that I'd consider doing with my Squirrelings. If you think of lapbooks as giant binder-sized projects, you'll probably be surprised at the variety suggested here: some of these "lapbooks" are just small booklets, file folders, or folded pieces of paper. Many of these ideas could be used by CM homeschoolers as "creative narrations"--for example, a folded page titled The Cathedral, with a sketch of the outside on the outside, and a bird's eye view of the inside on the inside. There are also suggestions for "mini Accordion Book timelines," "Large Q & A Books," and "Pizza Books," as well as one of Cyndy's specialties, handmade hardcover books. This looks like a great resource, especially if you have hands-on kids who like to have something to show and keep after a unit of study.

Most useful for: Just about anyone.

In the next post I'll get to that other book with the "Ideals" cover art.

These books are not my own

I have two boxes in the Treehouse rec room with forty-two books in them, all bought this month for our local homeschool support group library. I get to babysit them because I catalogue and sticker them and then take them to support group meetings. (Most of the library isn't stored here, just the new books.)

So they're not my own.

And, truth be told, I wouldn't want to own all of them. Our group is (for these parts) fairly large: 130 families from different church denominations, using widely different approaches to school, and with widely different needs. Some of them have special-needs children. Some of them have teenagers, some have babies, some have both. Some of them have been in the group for a long time, and some of them are just starting out. So when we buy books, we try to pick a buffet, something for everybody. I can get very enthusiastic about books I know I will personally never use!

We have a lot of how-to-homeschool books and curriculum guides, and also books for different subject areas like science and English; books on Christian family living, guides to Shakespeare, and Canadian history. Including a stack of videos and a few cassettes, we have over a thousand items in the library.

And now we have forty-two more.

Every month I write a what's-new library column for our group's newsletter. So I'm going to start posting reviews of these books on the Treehouse as well, as I munch my way through this buffet. [Update: the reviews are here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6.]

P.S. I should add that most of the library fund comes from money raised from our yearly conference.

Even the DHM can't beat this

The Deputy Headmistress has posted many times about the treasures, semi-treasures and just plain weird things that her family has unearthed in the attics and crannies of her packrat relatives' homes. However, I am fairly sure that even she does not have an 1886 tortilla. No kidding, go see. (Found through this week's Recipe Carnival, which you should visit cautiously unless you like eating possum.)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Bread--you can't miss this one

The Lilting House bread roundup continues adding to the great recipes and advice. Thanks, Melissa, for getting this one together, and thanks DHM for pointing it out--obviously I haven't been over to the Lilting House enough lately!

But now I would really like the DHM's mother's recipe for no-knead bread that makes the bowl burp. Please? [Update: Oh, I think I found one that must be similar.]

Feeling retro?

Laura Rebecca's Kitchen hosts Retro Recipe Challenge #4, Fall Favorites. No vegetable Jell-O this time, though (thank you).

Dewey, you have weird friends

Those who appreciate rodent humor should scamper over to The Upward Call and see When Fuzzy Woodland Creatures Go Bad.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Fabulous Friday Friends

Our fabulous Friday friends in the U.S. are getting ready for Thanksgiving.

Meredith at Like Merchant Ships has one of the prettiest and most practical blogs that I know of for tightwad decorating, shopping and cooking. When she talks about organizing her pantry, she's brave enough to post a photo. She knows how to clean old Little Tykes toys. Even the top of her refrigerator looks nice. Meredith is also the originator of Scrap Cookies, which we've made several times and which get eaten up fast. And she has a very cute baby. (Friends introduce each other to friends, and Meredith's blog today introduces Janel, who shares her passion for frugal decorating tips.)

Kathryn Judson's blog, Suitable for Mixed Company, is a little different. She says, "Around here we discuss books, history, current events, home life, and other things. Politely. The idea is to share information and ideas, and help each other out a little when we can." I get home ideas from Meredith (and some of my other favourite blogs); I get ideas about stuff that's going on outside the mom-world from Kathryn.

Finally, Kim Anderson's blog Mother-Lode. She's been a winner of the Best Homeschool Mom blog award, and she's a member of the Keepers of the Home blog ring (the Treehouse is also a member--the button is at the bottom of the page). Lately she's been posting about Time Memorials, What Time is It? and Keeping Time. Make some time to go visit Kim, and tell her I sent you.

Fa la la la la

Playstation 3 goes on sale today. Are you excited?

Stores have issued tickets for reserved spaces in line. People are camping out (up to 30 hours in line) to be sure and get one. The radio station reports that one man was offered a thousand dollars for his place in line, but he turned it down because he's doing this for his son, "so he can unwrap a Playstation 3 on Christmas morning."

Kind of warms the cockles of your heart, doesn't it.

By the way, someone on the local pass-it-on list is giving away a Playstation 1. Wonder if they camped out to get that...

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Homeschooling is NOT a worst-case scenario

This is the kind of why-would-you-homeschool article that drives me nuts with its fuzzy logic. (Thanks to HomeschoolBuzz.com for pointing out this Manila Standard Today column by Connie Veneracion.) First,
"Still, in a scenario where quality education is inaccessible or unaffordable, or both, I’d take a good hard look at homeschooling. And, in a worst-case scenario, I’d probably overcome my feeling of incompetence to teach my own children math and the sciences. In a worst case scenario."
Define quality education, please. And why is it that the writer feels so incompetent in math and the sciences? Could it be that she didn't receive a quality education?

All right, now to the big one:
"Parents like to think that they always know what’s best for their children but, sadly, that is not always the case. Parents are humans bound by their own (sometimes twisted) beliefs and prejudices. And it would be a crime to pass on those beliefs and prejudices to the children without the children even being aware of it. Inasmuch as parents do have the right to raise their children the way they see fit, including how they should be educated, that right must be tempered with the rights of the child to learn that he has the right to choose a life different from his parents’."
Let's insert the word "teachers" in there, although I have nothing against individual teachers; it's the educational establishment here that we're talking about.

"Teachers like to think that they always know what’s best for children but, sadly, that is not always the case. Teachers are humans bound by their own (sometimes twisted) beliefs and prejudices. And it would be a crime to pass on those beliefs and prejudices to the children without the children even being aware of it."

It would be, wouldn't it?

The Deputy Headmistress wrote about this subject recently; her thoughts are here.

Across Africa in one week

[Updated to include some things I forgot and to add a few things after the fact]

To celebrate Geography Week's Africa theme, and also because we needed a bit of break in routine subjects, this has been Africa Week in the treehouse. Since it was a very last-minute decision, everything we've done has been of the what's-in-your-hand variety: it wasn't possible to get to the library, so we used books and resources we had on hand, as well as the Internet. It wasn't meant to be in-depth. It isn't a complete unit study. We didn't do any amazing crafts, learn to speak Swahili, or study African history. It was just an introduction to the continent of Africa. (We'd been studying the continents in A Child's Geography, and this extended the idea of continents/countries a bit.)

One of the interesting things that came out of this week was how much the names and boundaries of countries change. Zaire/Democratic Republic of Congo was the biggest change; although its name was changed ten years ago, most of our books and maps still show Zaire. So that was one idea that the younger Squirrelings were introduced to--that names and countries aren't always carved in stone. (This has come up recently in history, too--Ponytails has been having a hard time understanding why Phoenicia isn't on our world map.)

Another connection was with the story of Mahatma Gandhi that we'd been reading from Armed with Courage; part of it takes place in South Africa, and we had already talked about what life was like there in the late 1800's (poverty in the cities), and what Gandhi tried to do about it (started a community farm and organized medical care for sick people in the cities).

We know people who grew up in Nigeria and Kenya and who have travelled to other African countries--but none of them are handy right now. Someone from our church came back recently from teaching in South Africa and showed slides--so maybe we'll get a chance to talk to her again if the Squirrelings want to know more about South Africa. (Actually we have South African neighbours, too--that reminds me that we should go and visit them.) Anyway, this week's virtual tour had to be mostly on our own.

The main book we used was the Africa section of Around the World in 80 Pages, by Antony Mason. It's not in-depth, just a cartoonish story of a guy and a dog travelling through different countries; but it did give us four days' worth of readings, and I had Ponytails trace the journey on a printed-out map of Africa (one with up-to-date names!). (When we read the part where the guy travels across Zaire, I wrote "Zaire" on one side of a strip of construction paper, and "Democratic Republic of the Congo" on the other side," and every time I read "Zaire," Ponytails had to correct me and read the current name. I think it was included about eight or ten times...and I think we know it now!)

Some other things we did:

* read Peter Spier's picture book People

* looked at families in Egypt and Chad in the book Hungry Planet

* played Mancala (the egg-carton game, also called Wari and a lot of other names)

* walked to a corner store that has a Lebanese food section. I was hoping they might carry some African foods as well, since there are a lot of Somali immigrants in that neighbourhood, but they didn't have much--mostly Lebanese and Turkish things and some flavourings from Guyana. So we came home with some couscous, pita bread, and the makings for hummus, and had a sort-of-Lebanese meal (some of those foods would also be eaten in North African countries).

* hoping to go to a Ten Thousand Villages craft store which will definitely have some African things--if the weather co-operates. Yesterday was perfect weather for a walk to the food store, but today's cold and rainy. [We haven't gotten there yet, but it's still on the to-do list]

* put bananas, dates and other things on toothpicks: fruit kebabs!

* read a story about Christians in Ghana, from Clubhouse Jr. magazine

* looked at newspaper pictures of Ivory Coast farmers cracking cocoa nuts (not coconuts), and talked about how people came to Africa looking for ivory and gold (and named countries after those things), and that there are other things produced there like cocoa, but that the people doing those jobs still have to work very hard (Ponytails' observation) and that they don't get much back for their work. (The Globe and Mail's Books section printed those photos last weekend along with reviews of the book Bitter Chocolate.)

* read a story about the Sphinx (that was the day we read about North Africa).

* listened to Danny Glover reading "How the Leopard Got His Spots"

* looked at two jungle pictures online by Rousseau (the kids liked the hide-and-seek details of these)

* watched a video about animals at the African Lion Safari park

* and I think that's it for school this week, besides some math and handwriting, and a bit of botany (we started studying flowers, but now we have to find some flowers to examine, in drizzly November. I wish we lived in Africa).

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Frugal gift baskets, and dollar stores

What's not to like about a blog called Not Made of Money?

Their contribution to last week's Festival of Frugality was a post called 5 Christmas Gift Baskets You Can Put Together For An Inexpensive (but thoughtful) Gift, based on items found at a dollar store.

That's a nice variation on an overused gift idea that (as shown in magazines) often ends up being either very expensive or completely impractical. I think the silliest gift-basket idea I've seen was a cookie-baking kit that included tubes of frozen cookie dough--now how is that supposed to survive under the Christmas tree? If someone does happen to notice that frozen dough in the basket and rescues it before it perishes, then they have to wreck the beautiful arrangement and all the bows and plastic wrapping just to get at it, so what is the point? (If that was your idea, I apologize, but maybe you can explain how you'd handle frozen food mixed in with the other things.)

Anyway, I think Not Made of Money has some good suggestions, if you do shop at dollar stores. Some people don't, on principle. Others of us do, also on principle. I've discussed the reasons we do shop there (mostly for our own Treehouse family members) with online friends, awhile back. Some of it comes down to what we expect of kids at Christmas time, and the fact that not everybody wants to make or get macaroni necklaces year after year. (And, if you've never thought about this, it's harder for homeschoolers to keep homemade gifts secret from each other than it is for most people!) There are few yard sales around here this time of year, so we head for the dollar store. (And try to stay out of each others' way while we're there!)

We've had some amazing successes and a few duds (ballet slippers that fell apart by the end of the day). The youngest Squirreling has been made happy with play food (including pretend canned things that you open with a plastic can opener), pink opera gloves, and paper dolls to cut out (from the scrapbooking section). The older girls have given each other gel pens, stickers, decorative boxes, and other craft and school supplies. The grownups have been given (on different occasions) giant barbecue tongs (very useful), hand lotion (Mr. Fixit really appreciated it), chocolate bars, and various kitchen thises and thatses. The toy section has also been raided to find grownup stocking stuffers (Mr. Fixit still plays with his tiny motorcycle set).

Yes, I know many of these things are made in factories overseas. I understand why that bothers people.

However, so are many of the things you buy at more expensive stores.

And if you noticed--many of the things we've given are edible or otherwise consumable or disposable (pens, lotion, paper). We try to avoid the stuff that ends up being clutter forever.

Not all our gifts come from the dollar store. There are always a few larger things (like a new snow toy or a CD-Rom, or Crayons' pirate snakes-and-ladders game), there are usually books from Mama Squirrel (I'm not giving away any secrets here), sometimes there are handmade things (The Apprentice has made great bead earrings for everyone who has pierced ears, and last year Mama Squirrel crocheted the girls some Christmas-coloured hair scrunchies), and sometimes there are used things (some squirrel-shaped salt-and-peppers once showed up in Mr. Fixit's stocking). And there are a few family squirrels and the lady next door who add to the things under the tree.

But the fun of exchanging the small gifts--the dollar store items and the Sunday School productions and the all-afternoon-in-the-bedroom projects--is one of the best parts of the holiday for us. Not THE best or the biggest part, because it shouldn't be, and that's another reason we keep things small. It's about the hunt and the surprise, the little jokes, and the quest to find something that's truly appreciated for a small amount of cash; it's not about presents getting more extravagant every year. And for us--dollar store or not--those are the thoughts that count.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Carnival of Homeschooling #46 is up

Sprittibee hosts this week's carnival, with an autumn blessings theme.

Paper clay caution?

I'm planning on making some of this construction-paper modelling stuff with my kids. One of the online sources says that blenders used to make craft stuff shouldn't be used again for food purposes. Anybody had experience making paper clay in the family blender or food processor, or have any thoughts? I'm not about to go out and buy a blender just to make modelling goop in.

The Equuschick has a challenge

Spell Equuschick without looking.

No, that's not it. She says, "Surveys, surveys, all over the internet. Who makes them, and why, and why can't The Equuschick, she wanted to know. She could not discover why, and therefore she decided she would entertain herself with such an activity.

"Ergo, she gives you- The Equuschick's Alphabet Survey."

Her answers are here.

And here are Mama Squirrel's.

*A- Favourite Animals: (The biases of the survey's author are showing.) Well...squirrels, if they're not in the house.
*B- Favourite Bad Habit: I'm still not telling.
*C- Favourite Cookie: Any kind with chocolate in them.
*D- Favourite Drink: Herbal tea with Mr. Fixit while we're watching movies in the evenings. (And you thought I was going to say coffee?)
*E-Favourite Egg Style: Baked in cookies with chocolate in them.
*F- Five Favourite Fiction Books: Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Saint Maybe, Great Expectations, The Moffats, Peter Rabbit
*G-Favourite Gadget: Our new radio?
*H- Favourite Hymn: "Day by Day" (NOT the song from Godspell)
*I- Favourite Ice Cream- Raspberry ripple.
*J- Favourite Jam: The plum jam my grandma made.
*K-Favourite Kid's Books: What, I couldn't include Peter Rabbit with Five Favourite Fiction Books? Pinocchio, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Look Through My Window.
*L-Favourite Love Song- "Eew. The Equuschick can't believe she even put such a smarmy question in here." Well, Mama Squirrel would put down something by Neil Young or Roy Orbison, since those were the tapes Mr. Fixit used to play in the buggy's Cordoba's tape player when we were courtin'.
*M-Favourite Memories: Holiday times.

Is half the alphabet enough for now?

Monday, November 13, 2006

A reading challenge

It's simple: pick five books on your shelf that you haven't yet managed to read, and finish them by the end of January. Michelle at Overdue Books posted this challenge, and she's got about a hundred and forty people signed up so far with their lists. Tim's Mom, Firefly and Krakovianka have already posted about this, but there's not much time left if you want to be in on the random drawing: the deadline for that is November 15th. But you can join in any time.

Oh, by the way, here's my list.

The Great Code: The Bible and Literature, by Northrop Frye

George Grant in Conversation, by David Cayley (I wanted this book badly but haven't found time to read it properly)

The Vicar of Wakefield, by Oliver Goldsmith

The House of the Four Winds, by John Buchan (a book Mr. Fixit read and recommends)

Tales of an Empty Cabin, by Grey Owl (ditto)

Today is World Kindness Day

Which, of course, kicks off World Kindness Week. The details are available at ActsofKindness.org. Check out the In Your Classroom section for suggestions of things you can do to celebrate kindness, including "Valen-kinds Day."

The Deputy Headmistress has some thoughts as well that could kick off some kindness.

This is also National Geography Awareness Week

"National Geography Awareness Week, initiated in 1987 by the National Geographic Society's Geography Education Program, is an annual celebration to promote geographic literacy. Geography Awareness Week occurs in every November with a new theme selected each year."

This year's theme is Africa!

You can find the details on this site and here too.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Great Books, not so scary

The Deputy Headmistress quoted today from The Delight of Great Books, by John Erskine, published in 1928. "He says in his first chapter that too often, 'a book is famous enough to scare off some people who, if they had the courage to open the pages, would find there delight and profit.' The remaining chapters hold his proofs of that statement as applied to speicfic books- Canterbury Tales, The Faerie Queene, Paradise Lost, Moby Dick, Candida, Modern Irish Poetry and The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, for example."

Mortimer J. Adler says in How to Read a Book that "most of us are not aware of the loss we suffer by not making that effort [to read epic poetry]," although "any of these major epics exerts enormous demands on the reader--demands of attention, of involvement, and of imagination."

Katherine Paterson once wrote that she had just finished reading The Odyssey, and she couldn't figure out why nobody had ever told her before what a great book it was! Not a Great Book in the Great Books sense, but just a great book.

I've been thinking the same thing lately, especially since I started into Paradise Lost. (I've been temporarily distracted by re-reading Breathing Lessons, which is less ambitious but which was calling out for another read.) I keep running into all these marvellous quotes and images, and some of it is really funny--even the parts about Satan. The fallen angels in Hell have a big council about whether or not they have any chance of getting revenge on God, and whether if they storm heaven's gates God might punish them. One of them says something like, "Well, what's He going to do? Send us to hell?" Eventually they decide that they don't have any chance of taking over Heaven, so the best thing they can do is get revenge through this new thing God is making--

"some new race, called Man, about this time
To be created like to us, though less
In power and excellence, but favoured more
Of Him who rules above."

So Satan volunteers to try to blast through the frontiers of Hell, and he runs into a particularly monstrous, ugly fiend blocking the way. He says,

"Whence, and what art thou, execrable shape,
That dares, though grim and terrible, advance
Thy miscreated front athwart my way
To yonder gates?...."

The monster snaps back,

"....Back to thy punishment,
False fugitive; and to thy speed add wings,
Lest with a whip of scorpions I pursue
Thy lingering...."

(I think I'm going to use that line next time one of the Squirrelings sneaks out of bed.)

Anyway, this is real storytelling, even if you don't think you like stories about foul fiends and such things. And yes, Milton does do all kinds of rabbit trails not only into Biblical imagery but into classical mythology; and some of them, if you've read enough of the stories, you recognize with delight. Other references you could look up if you wanted to, but you don't have to--I just keep reading if I don't recognize whatever analogy he's making. (That's partly why I said in an earlier post that I think I enjoy this more now than I did in university.)

And this is the other thing I've found about enjoying books like Paradise Lost and The Odyssey--find an edition (and, for everything except Paradise Lost) a translation that you enjoy. We were given some Harvard Classics recently, including the volume of Milton, but I don't like reading it out of the HCs: the pages are too crispy and the print's too small. I like my big illustrated hardcover with the nice big print. (Makes you feel like a little kid with a big book.) That doesn't apply just to epic poetry, by the way. One of the two books I brought home from the thrift shop last weekend was a very nice edition of Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield, with illustrations by Arthur Rackham. As in, the illustrator of The Wind in the Willows and other childrens' books. We have an Everyman paperback of The Vicar too, which isn't too exciting to look at; but this one almost yells to be read. It's the same with childrens' books, too; we have an oversized hardcover of Charlotte's Web which is much nicer to read than a cheap paperback edition.

But I digress. The point is that the greatest books of the Western world were never meant to be slow torture by boredom. If you can get beyond being scared off by the foul fiends of English classes past, they make good reading too.

Why is the sky blue?

Because green wouldn't look right in the sky. (Crayons' very good answer.)

Fabulous Friday Friends--Coast to Coast

Little School by the Skeena belongs to Laura in British Columbia, a mom of four who is also an Honorable Chat Matron on the Canadian Homeschooler's Board. This is a lady who believes in gingerbread at bedtime and also knows how to really appreciate her Hunny. (The DHM has also been posting on that topic, if you missed it.)

And My Little Corner is the blog home of Jen in New Brunswick, also a regular on the Homeschooler's Board. From Jen's profile:
"I'm a born-again, saved by grace, homeschooling mom of 5. I like to talk. Plain and simple. I will talk to telemarketers long enough that THEY hang up on me, I talk to the checkout lady at the grocery store, I talk to the cat. I also talk to my kids and husband, but they tend to tune me out. So, now I am talking to anyone who will read my ramblings. I suspect, though, I will be mainly talking to myself."
So go visit Jen so she doesn't have to talk to herself.

Rainbow Logic

We usually try out new math games on Fridays, and they often come from the book Family Math. I've found that many of the games have been uploaded here and there online, sometimes scanned in straight from the book. Today's game, Rainbow Logic is also online although not in the Family Math format. I think that link still explains it pretty well, though. You need a three-by-three or four-by-four grid, which you can either draw yourself or print off from this really neat graph paper generator. And coloured paper squares or any other kind of markers you can think of (we used Unifix cubes because they were nice and big).

The game is kind of like Battleship, kind of like Mastermind, and kind of like Pico Fermi Bagels. You just have to figure out, by logic and elimination, where the other person has put their nine or sixteen markers on their grid.

Try it out!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Best, bar none

I know maybe three or four things to do with the end of the jar of jam: put it into a peanut butter and jelly sandwich; mix it with a cup of water and a tablespoonful of cornstarch, and cook until slightly thickened--use on pancakes; make Tightwad Gazette jam-and-milk popsicles (I've tried them but I couldn't get the jam really mixed with the milk, so they're not my first choice); or make these bars, which are so accommodating that you can make half the pan one flavour and half the pan another, if your jam jars are really close to the bottom.

Also these have a very nice flavour--I think it's the combination of the almond flavouring and the cloves. They're from the first Harrowsmith Cookbook.

JAM BARS

½ cup shortening
½ cup sugar
½ tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. almond extract
1 egg
1 1/2 cups flour (I use unbleached all-purpose)
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. salt
Jam, any flavour you like--and the amount is up to your sweet tooth. (Apricot is very good.)

Cream the shortening and sugar with the flavourings, and beat in the egg. Sift the dry ingredients together (I just mix them in another bowl) and add to the creamed mixture. You may need to sprinkle the dough with just a LITTLE water if you find it's too dry.

Spread half the dough in a greased 8" square pan. Cover with jam, which isn't always easy to do without messing up the dough--you just have to spread it out the best you can. Cover with the rest of the dough mixture (it's okay if it doesn't quite cover all the jam) and bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes. Cool before you cut them in squares. Even then, they can be a bit crumbly for eating out of hand--but they're good.


CHOCOLATE FINGERS

These are a family favourite at Christmas time, and we make only ONE PAN. I linked last year to where somebody had posted the recipe on a message board. Since then that's disappeared, so I decided it was time to post it myself. (We found it in Canadian Living's Family Cookbook.)

1 pkg (400g) digestive biscuits (For those of you who can't get digestive biscuits, you can substitute 1-3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs, or maybe 'Nilla wafer crumbs.)
½ cup finely chopped nuts
½ cup butter
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup sifted unsweetened cocoa powder

1 Tbsp instant coffee granules
1 Tbsp hot water

2 eggs, beaten
2 tsp vanilla

GLAZE:
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 Tbsp shortening

INSTRUCTIONS

Line 8-inch square pan with waxed or parchment paper, leaving enough paper hanging over the edges for easy removal later.

1. Using food processor or rolling pin, crush biscuits until in fine crumbs (or use a food processor). Transfer to bowl and add nuts.

2. In saucepan or bowl set over simmering water: melt butter; whisk in sugar and cocoa.

3. Dissolve coffee in hot water; add to pan and cook over simmering water, whisking for 1 minute or until thickened and sugar is dissolved.

4. Whisk in eggs and vanilla; cook, whisking, for 4-5 minutes or until thickened slightly. Remove from heat.

5. With fork, stir in crumb mixture. Mix well.

6. Press firmly into prepared pan (lined with wax paper). Cover and refrigerate until cool, about 1 hour.

GLAZE: (don’t prepare this until base is cooled and ready)

1. In saucepan over simmering water, stir chocolate with shortening until melted and smooth.

2. Pour over base, spreading evenly.

3. Cover and refrigerate until set.

4. Using waxed paper as handles, lift square from pan. Cut into small squares or fingers.

5. Keep covered in refrigerator. These will keep for several days.

Around the blogosphere

Ann lists #s 189 through 201 in the thousand things she's thankful for.

Athena declares a crusade.

The DeputyHeadmistress winterizes [UPDATE: and deals with several miles of medical red tape. Oy.]

Donna-Jean counts up November's greatest treasures

And Tim's Mom shows how to make a composition notebook--step by step with photos!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Said in a library whisper

The Carnival of Homeschooling--Library Edition is up at Spunky's blog. I like the Dewey Spunky Decimal arrangement!

Why we have bean seeds taped to the window

Our current Botany chapter is online here at Home Training Tools. Good thing we had so many bean seeds left from our garden this year.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Beautiful music

Mama Squirrel admits: not everything made after 2000 is garbage.

Mr. Fixit just replaced our aging Longines Symphonette kitchen radio (a treasure when he found it, but it was getting so decrepit it couldn't even bring in the CBC) with a Summit Self-Sufficient Multiband Radio. He found it on a clearance table for much less than the price listed there on Amazon--he says that's because radios are much less popular than they used to be (people are listening to satellite radio and all those other personal music devices).

The cool thing about this radio, besides the fact that you can program in your favourite stations, is that it doesn't take batteries. You can plug it in; it can run on solar power; or you can crank a handle on the back to juice it up. Mr. Fixit says that's becoming much more common in places where you can't put batteries in the garbage. Seems that would have saved Gilligan some miles on the exercise bicycle...

Anyway, now we can tune in something besides the local AM talk radio and the FM easy-listening station that's always playing every time I'm trapped in the dentist's chair (I now associate Barry Manilow with the suction machine and the drill).

Thanks, Mr. Fixit.
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